ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO/AP) — Minnesota lawmakers hoping to lift the state’s decades-old law that forces liquor stores to be closed on Sunday are introducing a range of compromises that would soften the ban, as well as the option to fully repeal it.
A Democratic state senator and Republican representative teamed up Thursday against a ban that’s grown increasingly unpopular with Minnesota consumers, but which has proven tough to repeal. Many small liquor store owners support the Sunday prohibition, saying it would force them to be open a seventh day of the week for competitive reasons while not substantially increasing weekly profits.
The powerful Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association opposes lifting the ban, and over several years the group has successfully encouraged liquor store owners around the state to lobby their legislators against changes. But critics of the ban have also grown more organized in recent months, and got a boost recently when Gov. Mark Dayton said he’d sign a repeal bill.
“Eventually, we believe this ban will go away entirely,” said Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth. “But to get us closer, we’re offering a variety of options from which legislators can choose.”
To that end, Reinert and Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, laid out several possible paths:
— Full repeal of the ban, allowing any licensed business owner to sell alcohol on Sunday.
— Several bills that delegate the decision to local governments: One would abolish the ban, but let cities and counties maintain their own; the other would leave the state ban in place, but let local governments opt out of it.
— Two proposals to lighten state regulations on craft brewers and tap rooms. One would let brewers sell specialized containers of their beers on Sunday, the other would let specialty brewers open pub-style “tap rooms” on Sunday.
— A proposed constitutional amendment to allow Sunday sales, which Reinert said would be a last resort if the Legislature can’t agree on any other changes.
Reinert and Loon emphasized that under no scenario would liquor store owners who want to remain closed on Sunday be forced to do otherwise.
“My effort is more about economic freedom,” Loon said. “Some businesses don’t want to be open on Sundays, and they don’t have to be. But some do, and so do some consumers.”
Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub in Minneapolis wants to be open on Sundays. It’s one of many new brewpubs and tap rooms around the metro. Such establishments can only sell their craft beers in 750 milliliter bottles (called bombers) or 64 ounce growlers.
“There is a demand for growlers on Sunday,” said Jamie Robinson, the owner of Northbound. “We don’t think just because it is Sunday we shouldn’t be able to sell growlers and make that amount of money.”
Northbound and other local brew pubs and tap rooms are teaming up under the banner of a group calling itself Minnesota Beer Activists. Their online petition for Sunday sales has more than 3,000 signatures, and their commercial on YouTube argues that Sunday sales prohibition is outdated.
But many mom-and-pop liquor stores oppose Sunday sales because they say it forces them to be open a seventh day of the week without increasing profits.
“We are a family run business, and Sunday is a day to spend time with our families,” said Eric Hisle, of Rite Liquor in St. Paul.
But the lawmakers introducing these options say people should be able to buy what they want, when they want. They say they’re hopeful some of the options will go through.
“We are here to say to the legislature, you have a full spectrum of choices. It is unreasonable to not make some sort of progress on this in 2014,” Reinert said.
Thirty-eight other states, including all of the states that border Minnesota, allow Sunday liquor sales. And many liquor stores in Minnesota border towns support Sunday sales so they can compete.
Polls have also shown that a majority of Minnesotans wouldn’t be opposed to liquor stores being open Sundays.
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